Friday, April 29, 2011

Watcher in the Woods

The second book in the Dreamhouse Kings series by Robert Liparulo is called Watcher in the Woods. This book picks up immediately where House of Dark Shadows left off. The mother of the King family has just been kidnapped by some huge ogre and dragged off into one of the time portals hidden in the upstairs portion of the house. This abduction does not seem to be a random act. In this story the remainder of the King family works to devise a plan to find their mother and bring her back from wherever she has been taken. The difficulty is that there are 20 time portal rooms and they seem to randomly change where they take you. There must be some way to gather information and find out what rules govern their behavior.

We find Ed King and his children Xander, David, and Toria attempting to set up a mission control center where they will carry out their search. They need to be careful because most of the portals seem to drop them off in the middle of a combat zone. The Roman Colosseum, a civil war battlefield, or in the middle of a WWII Nazi tank fight. David and Xander are especially anxious to get started. However, their dad seems more interested in planning and talking than taking action. He knows more than he is telling his children and it is impacting how they view him.

The other chilling aspect of this tale is that some mysterious, battle-scarred man does not want the Kings anywhere near this house. He has used it unchecked for his own dark purposes for the 30 years that it sat vacant. Now he is using his considerable influence and sway in the town, not to mention his substantial wealth, to turn the locals against the King family and run them out of town. Over the course of the book, we learn that this wicked man is an ancient assassin from the Assyrian empire who originally came through the portals by mistake. What he is now after or trying to control is unclear. However, we learn that he commands the ogre that kidnapped the King children's mother. We also are introduced very briefly to the old man Jesse who helped to build the house of dark shadows. In his nursing home some 3000 miles away, a dream has alerted him that the assassin has somehow affected history. The old man who had hoped to never set foot anywhere near that house again, begins a trek across the country in an attempt to warn the house's occupants and to give them the information they must have if they are to save the world. Now on to the third book in the series, "Gatekeepers".

Thursday, April 28, 2011

House of Dark Shadows

I have been looking for some good fiction for a few months now. Usually I get a suggestion or two from my various sources and then work them into my reading time. I have been on some awesome reading adventures in the books that I have read the last two or three years. Well, my most recent story kind of fell into my lap by accident. I was at the bookstore perusing the discount shelf and spotted an interesting looking title called House of Dark Shadows by Robert Liparulo. I had never heard of the author or the book, but after a quick run through of the first chapter while I stood there, I knew I would enjoy this. This book is part of a six-part series called "The Dreamhouse Kings" that was published in the period from 2008 to 2010.

House of Dark Shadows is a story about the King family. Ed and Gertrude, along with their three children, Xander (15), David (12), and Toria (9). They move from Pasadena to Pinedale, CA presumably so Ed can take a better job. Yet moving from the busy community of Pasadena to the nowhere, isolated, spot on the map up north doesn't seem to make sense. Yet the King family is a tight-knit group and believe in their patriarch and his love and leadership. After all, this family has bonded around the fact that they don't keep secrets from each other ... or so we think.

Upon arrival in Pinedale, they begin to search for a house to buy. They find a run-down Victorian that had sat unoccupied for more than 30 years. With a bit of work, this place could be the dreamhouse of the King family. However, it doesn't take long to find out that this house harbors some dark and mysterious secrets that are slowly revealed as the story moves along. The children find a hidden hallway with portals that lead to far-off lands in different times. Exploring these portals at first seems like a wonderful adventure, but Xander and David are nearly killed in separate episodes and Mom is kidnapped by some huge ogre. Ultimately we find out that Dad has a long history with this house.

Liparulo's style and pacing were wonderful in this book. I was part of the adventure in exploring the house and its hidden secrets. My mind was flooded with such amazing detail from the author's keystrokes, that it quickened my pace and transported me to this place. I really enjoyed this adventure and now move on to the second book in the series "Watcher in the Woods".

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Prayer Closet

I was reading a book the other day when I came across the term "prayer closet". I was already familiar with this phrase, but for some reason my most recent encounter caused an image to form in my mind. I thought how silly I would look huddled up in the dark in my closet praying all alone. Perhaps I could fit if I pushed my shirts to one side and wedged my way in next to my winter sweaters. Oh, but I would have to pile my shoes up in a stack. Working out the logistics in my head just made this idea paint a more and more absurd picture. But, in reality, I guess I do have one or two prayer closets of my own that I actually do take refuge in.

For those not familiar with the term, a prayer closet was spoken of in the Bible. It represents a secluded and private room of your house where you can go for meditation and prayer, away from the bustle and commotion of the home. A place where you can be with God and pour out your heart and mind where nobody will hear you or interrupt you. A prayer closet was meant to be a place of regular retreat. But in my life, the notion of a prayer closet is also quite real, although I don't actually crawl into my closet at home and shut the door.

My prayer closet is the unused formal dining room in my house, where the sun shines in brightly in the morning. It is my car on the way to and from work where I can think and be still. It is also a walk outside at work when my mind is flooded with things that I need to unload and seek my Savior's counsel. In many ways, a prayer closet framed by nature is the most wonderful of all. In some ways it feels like I am stepping out of my world into His.

"But you, when you pray, enter into your closet, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father which is in secret.", Matthew 6:6

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Turn the Page

If I look at my daughter's bookcase, it contains so much more than several shelves of books. Rather, I see many wonderful memories. Books that we read in tough times, stories that filled us with wonder, tales of heroes and adventures, and fantasies that filled our hearts and minds. There are books that represent each of the different phases of her life. From beginning reader to young adult. Several series that we went through, reading one volume and eagerly looking forward to the next. We have spent so many hours together reading and talking about the stories and characters. Such a deep and meaningful period of bonding and loving. The essence of quality time. Usually my daughter would lie with her head against my shoulder so that she could see the pictures or follow along with the words as I read them. Our times like this were always a joy to me and I never grew weary of her asking me to read just one more chapter, even if that meant stretching out her bed time a little bit longer than usual.

Over the last year or so, my daughter has really come to embrace reading books on her own. She very much enjoys some quiet time to relax with whatever tale she is working through. Gone are the kiddie books. Now she can easily tackle tomes 500 pages long. I guess that as an academic sort myself, it should give me some measure of pride to have passed along a love of reading to her. Yes, I guess that is true. But now that she has her own stories to read, she no longer needs me to read to her. If there is and opportunity for reading, her choice is to dive into her own book, curling up in her bed or in a nice sunny spot in the living room. I so miss those quiet times, just the two of us. Reading to her and living those endless adventures together. I guess that I must face the fact that she has turned the page. A wise friend once told me to love her deeply but hold onto her loosely.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A+ America 4

As Peter Griffin showed me several years ago, it is healthy to vent on the petty annoyances that pick at us and irk us on a daily basis. To that end, I write a regular stream of posts entitled "Grind My Gears". So far I have written more than 20 of them and have a long string of topics that I have jotted down in my note pad that are worthy of this banner. In order to balance the positive with the negative, the good with the bad, the yin with the yang, I decided that I would write a series called "A+ America". This series would contain the things that I come upon that show me that mankind has some redeeming qualities. So far, I have only written 3 posts in this category. While this says something about me and how I view the world, I also think it correlates with the goodness and generosity and loving spirit of the world at large.

However, I saw something so heart warming as I was driving to work the other day, that I knew that I had found the seed for my fourth entry in this positive series. Stapled to a telephone pole in my neighborhood was a simple hand-written sign that announced a yard sale. Of course this is a fairly common site, but the yard sale was announced to help pay for a missions trip. The address on the sign was located not too far from where I live in a working-class neighborhood. Nothing fancy. No manicured lawns or expensive cars. I suspect that selling some of the things that they owned was the only way that they could even consider paying for their travel. The notion was humbling to me, but more than that, it was inspiring and beautiful and Godly. Well done folks.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Guerrillas of Grace

The following is a poem and prayer from author and retired minister Ted Loder. I stumbled upon it in a book that my Bible study group is reading. When I read a book for group, I usually will make a pencil mark in the margin of things that catch my eye and make me think or cry or laugh. Yet I had not marked anything by this poem. I guess it did not make an impression upon me at the time or place I was doing my reading. Yet when we read it aloud in group, a wave of emotions rushed over my sea wall and filled me. This is the good stuff. I clearly had passed over a valuable gem buried just beneath the surface. I felt that I just had to share it. This piece comes from Loder's volume called Guerrillas of Grace.

How shall I pray?
Are tears prayers, Lord?
Are screams prayers,
   or groans
      or sighs
         or curses?

Can trembling hands be lifted to you,
   or clenched fists
      or the cold sweat that trickles down my back
         or the cramps that knot my stomach?

Will you accept my prayers, Lord,
   my real prayers,
      rooted in the muck and mud and rock of my life,
and not just the poetry, cut-flower, gracefully arranged
bouquet of words?
Will you accept me, Lord,
   as I really am,
      messed up mixture of glory and grime?

Thursday, April 21, 2011


I think professional sports teams and their branding and marketing are so ubiquitous that we just see the players and the t-shirts and the SportsCenters as part of everyday life. We barely give notice or react when we encounter them. But given that the playoffs for the National Basketball Association (or NBA) are now in full swing, I called a time-out to actually do some research on the names the playoff teams have. It's funny, but some of the names do not come from obvious sources. In fact, I am sure lots of folks think that they know why teams are called what they are, but I would guess that most people don't really have a clue. I went to the official NBA team pages and spent three full days reading and re-reading the team histories. It really is quite fascinating and quite telling. Given that, I wanted to share my findings with you so that you would have something to talk about with your friends at your next weenie roast.
  • Celtic - an all female musical ensemble
  • Knick - entertainment for young teenagers
  • Hawk - an aggressive businessman
  • Magic - an annoying mouse with a high-pitched squeal
  • Trailblazer - anyone who looks like Gabby Hayes
  • Maverick - someone from Alaska who talks a lot but does nothing useful
  • Heat - a hispanic with severe keister itch
  • Pacer - one who wanders without purpose or aim
  • 76'er - anyone who recalls President Carter was a peanut farmer
  • Laker - a chronic bedwetter
  • Bull - someone who reeks of bovine flotsam
  • Spur - anyone who has ever screamed out "ride me cowgirl!"
  • Grizzly - a person with an unusual hankering for honey
  • Nugget - a processed chicken blob made without chicken
  • Thunder - anyone with Lion-O PJs
  • Hornet - anyone with a friend named Kato who wears a trenchcoat
So, there you have it. I am sure that one or two of these will surprise you and leave you scratching your head. But, I do the research so you don't have to. You can thank me later.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Crimes Against Humanity

Even as we speak, I am on a diet to drop a few pounds that crept up on me in a ninja-like fashion. Several of my systems seem to get knocked abeam whenever my weight starts to drift upward. Even as I exercise on a regular schedule and try to watch what I eat, I still have to make course corrections from time to time. This usually involves me having to give up another of my favorite foods. I think periodic adjustments are necessary because the body gets used to whatever we are trying to do and makes adjustments to nullify all of our hard work and sincere efforts.

Well, the sneaky and conniving aspects of our own bodies as they act against us are not the topic of today's post. Today I felt compelled to share with you a dark secret that I have been harboring for several weeks now. It has gotten to the point that I can no longer sleep at night because I keep having to get up to go to the bathroom and I cannot stay awake when watching professional sports while laying on the sofa. Recently, as I have been working on my diet, in single-minded fashion, I have done something unspeakable. I have neglected a perfectly awesome bag of Lays Brand Potato chips that sat unopened in my pantry. Now the chips are past their freshness date. Oh, the pain in this crime against humanity. How will I ever to be able to answer for what I have done to you? Oh, the cold, heartless neglect.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Rumsfeld and Religion

"Because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns -- the ones we don't know we don't know.", Donald Rumsfeld.

You might think it odd, but this infamous rambling quote by George W. Bush's Secretary of Defense flooded my mind recently as I was struggling with several aspects of my faith. Sometimes I read something or think about something and can set it aside and walk away from it when I don't fully understand it or can't come up with a reasonable answer. At other times, some idea or thought latches onto me and won't let go. Such is the case after I finished reading a Christian book containing some highly controversial thoughts. Definitely not items discussed in Sunday school. It was then that Rumsfeld's utterance bubbled to the surface.

There are known knowns - I know that God loves me and wants a relationship with me. He died on the cross because He couldn't bear the thought of heaven without me. He wants me to look to him and follow the path that consistently leads to Him. Sometimes this is the only truth that I can latch onto and it serves as my refuge and my beacon of hope.

There are known unknowns - I don't know with 100% certainty what happens when I die. I guess there is the possibility that my coffin will be my final resting place. But if I go to heaven, I have no idea what I will do to fill my existence. Will I still be me? Will I get bored after a couple of choruses of Hallelujah? Will my relationship with Jesus ultimately help me find peace in this life? Do my prayers matter? Am I heard? Is God too subtle for me? I don't know who will ultimately get to the afterlife and what the full set of criteria are. These are questions that I know I can't answer.

There are unknown unknowns - What surprises lie ahead in this lifetime? Will any of the hard lessons that I've learned to this point matter? Will I get to where I am supposed to go? Will I ever be able to unload this heavy collar of regrets?

Sometimes hard questions are good, because they help you defend what you think you know, at least to yourself, or they give you a perfect opportunity to scratch your head and figure things out. Some of the known unknowns can never be answered because the answers lie outside of us. The best we can do then is to establish an uneasy truth of plausible reasoning to help us get past them. As for the unknown unknowns, hopefully how I am living now will give me the strength and tools and approaches to deal with them when they arise.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Numbers of Hope

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believes in him will not perish.", John 3:16.

Best selling Christian author Max Lucado wrote an entire book focussing on this single Bible verse. In 3:16 - The Numbers of Hope, Lucado approaches this verse that he refers to as the "Hope Diamond" of Bible verses. Actually this "book" was really a melange of two quite different book-lets. The first 100 pages contained Lucado's meandering, easy-going discussion of John 3:16. Nothing too deep, just enjoyable affirming reading. To bolster this short manuscript, he has sort of haphazardly appended a 40-day devotional focussing on various aspects of the life of Jesus from His birth through His death and ascension.

The discussion on John 3:16 is hardly a detailed exegesis. It is basically a folksy, lilt through a meadow. But, hearty fare is not what Lucado is all about for the most part. Actually I found the devotionals much more personal to me and the best part of this work. One of them really resonated with me and made me think. He entitled it "Two Thieves - Two Choices". When Jesus was dying on the cross, His cross was erected between those of two common thieves. Unlike Jesus, they were paying a just penalty for their crimes. Lucado brought out the point that the two thieves are very much like us. They have a decision to make. Two choices. One choice is to embrace Jesus and meet with Him in paradise upon death. A second choice is to mock him and reject him and live apart from him in Hell upon death. The two crosses on the hill next to Jesus symbolize His greatest gift to us. The gift of choice.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Up, Up, and Away

I watched the man give the small child a big, bright balloon. The smile on his little face lit up the room. You would have thought he just received the keys to the kingdom. Well, perhaps, that is just what he did get. You see, to a child, a balloon is a most wonderful thing. You can tell how much they are cherished by the reactions when they pop or when they escape from those small little hands. Tears streaming down broken faces as they hold the pathetic remains of their most prized item or when they stand there, helpless, watching their balloon go up, up, and away.

This scene reminded me of a time many years ago, when my daughter and I went to the local grocery store. She was not yet strong enough to walk through the store on her own, so she sat in the child's seat of the shopping cart. At the entrance of the store was the floral department, and we had gotten to know the lady who worked there on Saturday mornings. She was always busy making the bouquet arrangements and setting them out for the customers. Because the aromas were so inviting and the colors so vibrant, my daughter and I would linger for a moment in the area, just looking and taking it in. One day the florist gave my daughter a plump yellow balloon attached to a string that she carefully tied to the handle of the shopping cart. A child's smile never shone so brightly.

When we had finished our shopping, we headed out to the car to pack it up for the drive home. My daughter thought that she would help by untying her balloon so that I could put it in the backseat for her. Her reactions were not fast enough, and the streamer trailed through her fingers before she knew it. With my back to the whole scene, I was alerted to the trouble by a loud cry. By the time I figured out what had happened, her balloon was 100 feet up in the air and a prisoner of the swirling updraft. The florist in the store saw the whole thing and immediately came running out with a new pink balloon. The tears were instantly dried and what was lost was replaced. My daughter told me that she liked the pink balloon better and she wrapped that ribbon leash around her hand so tightly.

This period of time when balloons are so revered only lasts a short time. A brief season of innocence, when small things bring the deepest joys and the biggest smiles. Oh that we grown-ups could learn a lesson from our children and appreciate the little things with deep joy and big smiles.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Grind My Gears 22

You know what really grinds my gears? People who don't answer their telephones when they ring. I mean, why even have a phone that you carry around with you 24 hours a day, 7 freakin' days of the week if you won't do us the courtesy of answering it when it plays your annoying ring tone? That chipper little ditty by Britney Swift or Ricky Martin or whoever that tart is just serves to mock us when it plays and plays and plays. I mean, why even have that unlimited plan for your phone where you pay the extract $25 each month if you never answer the phone? What is the point? Do you think that you are better than us, that you can screen us out at your convenience? Who made you king of the world? And why am I ranting so hard that every sentence seems to be ending in a question mark? In my extensive research (amounting to about 23 seconds using the mighty search engine GOOGLE), I even found a facebook page containing over 453 billion people who agree with me called "I hate when people don't answer their phone!". So while you sit there with that tinny little tune emerging from that happening little holster on your belt, realize that you are just a punk. You should fall on your face and thank your lucky stars that anyone would even call you in the first place. You really grind my gears.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Common Life

You have just finished a meal, or watched a movie, or experienced something. The following conservation takes place.

You: Ahhhh.
Them: Did you enjoy it?
You: Yeah, I sure did.
Them: What did you enjoy about it?
You: Hmmm, I can't remember.

Such a conservation might be had with someone after you finish reading the Max Lucado book Cure for the Common Life. This book was simply a collection of Lucado sermons in the area of how to life that honors God in the best possible way.

"Let every detail in your lives - words, actions, whatever - be done in the name of the Master, Jesus", Col. 3:17.

If you have ever played baseball, you know what players call the "sweet spot" of the bat. If you hit the ball off of this area located between the end of the bat and the manufacturer's label, the ball goes far and you don't feel any sharp stinging in your hands. Miss the sweet spot and conditions are not ideal. Living in the sweet spot gives the best results, not just for hitting a baseball, but for living our lives. Such is Lucado's point in this book. If we live in our sweet spot, we are playing to our strengths. We are living the best life for God doing exactly what he made us to do.

Now if you remember the above hypothetical conversation that I had after reading this book, you can get a sense of my true opinion after completing this work. It was kind of spiritual fluff, tasty junk food. A quick read that was enjoyable, but a few days after you finish reading, you can't really remember much about the book. This is light fare that will go through your system quickly. The kind of book that is good to keep you company on a road trip, yet it won't fill your belly.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


An undertow is a phenomenon not seen from above. It refers to a strong current flowing in the depths, opposing the nominal trend on the surface. If you go swimming in such waters, do so at your own peril. The unseen forces are likely to have their own way, for the rules in that world are contrary to what you have come to know.

With the image of an undertow filling my mind, where powerful dynamics work against you or tend to pull you under, I started to think of things that can easily carry me away from where I want to be. Just pondering for a few minutes, several came to my mind.
  • Reading or listening to anti-christian rhetoric - this serves to addle my faith, pulling me down.
  • Falling away from my daily devotions - leads to spiritual weakening.
  • Not taking advantage of quality time with my daughter - the dirty dishes will still be there tomorrow.
  • Letting laziness take charge in my life - complacency leads to stagnation which leads to decay.
  • Not investing in others - humans were made to live in community.
  • Relying on myself and my own strength - the quickest way to sink to the bottom and drown.
  • Falling prey to my own anxieties or what-ifs - if I could only reclaim all of the time I have lost to worry ...
  • Allowing others to infect me negative attitudes - I am an attractor of negativity, and once I pick it up, I become a broadcaster.
  • Losing control of my temper - too many have been hurt by my quick fuse.
  • Not watching my words carefully - too many relationships scuttled by not controlling my tongue..
The river to the ocean goes, a fortune for the undertow. None of this is going my way ...

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Trickster

I have been warned countless times by well-meaning folks that we need to be careful what we pray for because we just might get what we asked for. I understand the sentiment behind these words, but something about them has always kind of bothered me. However, it was only recently that I was able to articulate to myself what was eating at me, what had left me a bit uneasy. Actually, it took an episode of Nickelodeon's Fairly Odd Parents to bring my thoughts together. The storyline of the show was the difference in approach between a fairy and a genie. When you make a wish of a fairy, they pop up exactly what you had in mind. However, a genie is much more of a rogue. He grants your wish, but always with a twist or condition that you had not intended. For example, you wish for an omelet and it suddenly appears in your hands and scalds you. See, you should have wished for an omelet on a plate.

Thus the warning to be careful what you pray for seems to me to presume that God acts like some cosmic trickster. He will grant your wish, but He purposefully will answer it too literally or He intentionally will misunderstand you. You might pray for some quiet time and then are sentenced to 20 years in solitary confinement. You pray for a long life but get into an accident and live in a vegetative state for 30 years. I think this model of God as the ultimate trickster is one that we dare not take too seriously. I don't think of God as playing games like this. He is on our side and is always looking to meet us exactly where we are and take us to exactly where He wants us to be.

What is really behind the sentiment of being careful what you pray for really is a caution to be sure that when you pray you are certain that you want God to possibly intervene. If you pray for increased patience with people, don't be surprise if you find yourself in situations where you need to cultivate patience. In other words, you should approach prayer seriously with earnest intent. So, the sentiment about being careful what you pray for really is all about being sure that when you ask for help that you really want help.

Friday, April 8, 2011

To Where?

I just got back from a trip to Columbia, SC and had a few-hour layover in Charlotte, NC on my way back home. I strolled past gate after gate, from E1 to E50 and back again, each with a waiting area filled with folks from all walks of life. Some young, some old. Some seasoned travelers, some first-time fliers. Some filled with excitement about their upcoming trip, and some just weathering the hours until they get back home. Myriad stories, a sea of humanity.

I love to watch the children as they bounce around with energy to spare, barely containing their enthusiasm. I am moved when I see young couples sharing a moment of their lives that is building their history together. I can get choked up seeing moms and dads talking on the phone with their children, both missing their usual routine. I smile to myself to see spouses checking in with their mates and sharing a laugh over the day's events.

As I wandered about the concourse I saw so many people boarding planes to somewhere. It always make me wonder where they are going and what lies ahead for them. Folks on their way to somewhere. Weddings, funerals, business trips, vacations. Each individual with their own story to tell.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Life Stages

Some folks are always in a rush. Never content with what they have or where they are, they are always looking ahead and pushing toward the next thing. Sometimes they are in such a hurry that seasons of their life flicker in and flicker out, seemingly in an instant. A unique and special period to be savored and appreciated, but with their feet pushing the pedal flush to the floorboard, they seem oblivious to the movie of their lives playing out in fast forward just outside their window. But, this scene is typical for so many of us. It makes me think of the opening line from the old soap opera, "Like sands through the hourglass, these are the days of our lives."

It is interesting to me to consider the typical stages of our lives and the attitude with which we approach them. You might come up with a different list, but mine looks as follows:
  • Elementary school - young childhood
  • Middle school - developing our identities
  • High school/teenager - developing independence
  • Young adult - learning how to live on our own
  • Child rearing - passing on what we know
  • Work - productive years
  • Retirement - winding down
What is interesting to me is that, except for the final stage, retirement, we are so eager to get the other stages over with and get onto the next one. There things always seem so much better and more interesting. We are so manic in our looking ahead to the next stage that we oftentimes don't take in all that we could or should from the stage that we are in. Watching my daughter as she pushes so quickly to grow up, stirs memories of myself from so many years ago. Try as I might to learn to extract all of the life that I can from the period that I am in, I too tend to keep barreling ahead with my head down. Meanwhile, outside my window the movie plays on.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Love Wins

Some books are dangerous because they are subversive. Some because they can be misunderstood easily by the careless or uninformed. Some are dangerous because they make us think about things we thought we already understood. It seems to me that one or more of these dangerous labels must be applicable to the book Love Wins by "celebrity" pastor Rob Bell. This book has a rather grandiose subtitle of "A book about heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived". Even before this book came out, there was a storm of controversy surrounding the author's pre-publication teaser. He seemed to be espousing universalism, a philosophy that says that everyone eventually gets to heaven to be in the presence of God. The heretic label was thrown about by pundits and pontificators. As for me, I have very much enjoyed and embraced each of Bell's previous works, and I felt the need to push all of the rhetoric to the side and let what Bell actually says allow me to form my own opinion.

Bell asks the question directly, "Will everybody be saved, or will some perish apart from God forever because of their choices?". Bell's answer is "Those are questions, or more accurately, those are tensions we are free to leave fully intact. We don't need to resolve them or answer them because we can't." But, in fact, he makes it clear that his belief is that, yes, everyone will eventually be saved at some point because God always gets what he wants and His love for us will always, eventually, win out.

The Bible is a complex book, written over a period of nearly 2000 years, many, many centuries ago. A different time, a different place, a different world. It contains passages of literal narratives, allegories, hyperbole, poetry, parables, and prophesies. One must be very careful in its interpretation to ensure the context is fully understood. Furthermore, we must be careful to appreciate that we are reading translations of the original greek and aramaic languages. It's possible there are things that we have come to misunderstand over time. To be sure, the statements of many renowned Biblical scholars are seemingly orthogonal on some points. From Augustine, to Martin Luther, to Billy Graham. However, on the keystone ideas they belt out the same tune.

The truth is that a fully literal interpretation of the Bible is imprudent. Banking on what you have heard in Sunday school or church as 100% fact is almost certainly indefensible. Claiming that a just and loving God would banish billions of people to an eternity of torment and untold suffering for choices that, in many cases, were cultural or circumstantial, requires a careful defense. Nobody alive on this Earth can claim that they know for certain. They may believe. They may have faith. But they don't know for sure. This is one of Bell's points. All we can do is to help ensure that love wins. Here and now.

What you believe isn't the full issue. What somebody else believes isn't the full issue. What you need to be able to do with a philosophy or decision on which, perhaps, your entire limitless eternity rests, is to ask honest questions and seek reasonable answers that hold up to probing and questioning. It's the only truly responsible thing to do. Whether or not you believe Bell's statements or conclusions, at least let it drive you back to the Scriptures. Just be careful what you read and which sources you claim as accurate. So, seek the rose along the way, just beware of the thorns.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Hey Jealousy

You want me to share? ... I'd rather just sit here and listen. ... I mean, the thoughts rattling around my head are pretty dark. ... I don't want anyone to see how twisted my mind really is. ... Well, maybe, on the other hand, if I get it out there, someone will be able to help me ... heal.

There is this guy I know. I call him my friend, but we are really just, well, acquaintances. I usually see him once a week and we exchange some light chatter for only a minute or two. Sometimes we leave comments on each other's blogs. He is about 15 years younger than I. I mean, I respect him as a person. He sets a good example for those around him and he has a lot of friends. I think he respects me too, but he really doesn't know all that much about me. Maybe if he did ...

Well this guy and his wife had some sort of fertility problem, I don't know the details, but they wanted to start a family. They tried lots of stuff and saw lots of doctors, but nothing worked. Anyway, to make a long story short, they just gave birth to twins. Now they are both just busting because they never thought they would get this opportunity. It's like they already had so much going for them, and now they get another major blessing. Then you see them surrounded by dozens and dozens of friends and supporters.

I mean, I'm happy for them too, but my feelings run deeper than that. Most of my joy for them has been stolen by my own poor choices and bad luck in life. I don't even want to admit it to myself, but my joy for my friend is being overwhelmed by jealousy. I mean, why can't I ..., dang, I hate that I feel this way ... Well, that's it, that's everything. ... I told you it was messed up.

... for love is strong as death; jealousy as fierce as the grave.

Monday, April 4, 2011

What is God?

In 2009, pastor and author Graig Groeschel organized a multi-church campaign that sought to bring some element of unity and common direction amongst the different voices and the diversity. One outcome of that effort was a wonderful book called What is God Really Like?. This book collects the sermons of seventeen of the participating pastors together. Each sermon was designed to explore a specific aspect of God's character and approach. These included:

God is Strong - Francis ChanGod is Here - Dino Rizzo
God is Incomparable - Mark BattersonGod is Reconciler - Clark Mitchell
God is Certain - Andy StanleyGod is Encouraging - Rick Bezet
God is For You - John BurkeGod is Present - Perry Noble
God is Able - Jentezen FranklinGod is in Control - Greg Surratt
God is Merciful - Stovall WeemsGod is Close - Wayne Cordeiro
God is Not - Steven FurtickGod is Big - Gary Shiohama
God is Not Like Me - Toby SloughGod is More - Chris Hodges
God is Father - Craig Groeschel

This was just a wonderful set of devotionals that are easy to read and to follow. You will laugh and cry and smile and feel. A wonderful way to strengthen your knowledge and relationship with the great I AM.

Friday, April 1, 2011


The full moon always seems to stir my imagination. Intellectually, it is no more than a barren rock that orbits our planet once a day, yet my mind always seems to dance with images of cartoon characters running around in search of the blue cheese mines. I guess this comes from watching too much television. I love to gaze up at that glowing orb in the night sky and just let the atmosphere and the clouds play games with my mind. Monopoly, twenty one, checkers, and chess. I talk to the man who lives up there, whose face peers down on the Earth below. I wonder what he sees from his perspective. I wonder if we seem as troubled to him as a people as I sense we are. His knowing wink, just a trick of the mind I guess. You might think that thoughts such as mine are ultimately a sign that there is some link between the phases of the moon and some other-worldly effects. In horror movies, it is always the lunar cycle that morphs man into werewolf. No, not so with me. It is just a fancy of thought, after all. Right? Moonstruck.